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Food getting Stuck in Throat

Food getting stuck in throat also known as Dysphagia is a medical condition wherein patients complain of difficulty in swallowing; this is often a symptom of an underlying condition. Symptoms commonly include: frequent heartburn (confirms presence of GERD), bad breath or halitosis (presence of abdominal sacs and pouches), regurgitation or vomiting (presence of obstruction), and severe chest discomfort are just one of the many observable manifestations of dysphagia. Food particle causing obstruction disrupts any of the stages of digestion below:

Ingestion – food is ingested into the mouth; these includes: chewing, use of teeth to mash the food particles and the release of saliva to aid in digestion.

Digestion – food particles are broken down and digested into the body

  • Chemical – use of digestive enzymes, saliva and etc
  • Mechanical – methods used to digest food e.g chewing, grinding, mixing

Absorption / Assimilation – digestive food, vitamins and minerals as well as fluids are absorbed by the blood and the body tissues and are used to regenerate cells.

Elimination – excretion of the waste products (via the kidneys) that were utilized during digestion

What Causes Food to get stuck in the throat?

There are a lot of factors that contribute to problems in swallowing, one possible reason could be a structural defect in the esophageal area, a neurological problem where neurotransmitters inside the brain cease to communicate with each other or it could even be our own eating and swallowing style. Discussed below are the common reasons why food is being stuck in the throat.

Esophageal Dysphagia – a condition where it hurts to swallow, this is due to a foreign body object being stuck in the throat near the esophagus and obstructing the normal swallowing process. Below are the factors that cause the condition:

  • Achalasia – is when the lower esophageal sphincter constricts causing the food particles to regurgitate back to the throat. Weakened muscular wall in the esophagus can be a cause as well.
  • Diffuse Spasm – occurs when esophageal contractions are unparallel with each other, this occurs after chewing the food affecting the muscular wall of the lower esophagus
  • Esophageal Stricture – is the narrowing of the esophagus which interrupts the normal swallowing process as huge food particles are confined in the esophageal area
  • Foreign Bodies Obstruction – blockage of the esophageal tubes caused by food, dentures, toy etc. which can cause swallowing to be difficult
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) – revulsion of gastric contents and stomach juices back to the esophagus, resulting to irritated esophageal lining and presence of ulcerations; eventually these ulcerations will scar causing the esophageal vessel to constrict
  • Eosinophilic Esophagitis – inflammation of the esophagus caused by extreme amounts of eosinophils in the esophageal area resulting to an allergic reaction towards food, airborne allergens or even gastric reflux; these contributes to scarring of the tissues in the area
  • Scleroderma – an autoimmune disease manifested by hardening of the skin; this is often a result of too much collagen production in the skin
  • Esophageal Diverticula – is a condition where esophageal tissues are overstretched resulting to sac or pouch formation bulging through muscle walls, these results to food particles trapped in these sacs which cause difficulty in swallowing; additionally presence of these pouches cause halitosis as well

Oropharyngeal Dysphagia – is a condition where there is muscular weakness in the tongue resulting to less production of saliva and difficulty in moving food particles from the mouth down to the esophagus; this is often characterized by drooling, coughing and gagging;

  • Stroke or Brain / Spinal Cord Injury – occurs when there is damage to the brain stem; as a result, most patients can’t swallow because the nerves and muscles involved in swallowing are paralyzed
  • Multiple Sclerosis – a condition where nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord are damaged resulting to poor muscular coordination affecting the normal swallowing process
  • Parkinson’s Disease – is a degenerative disorder in the basal ganglia of the brain where there is less production of the neurotransmitter dopamine responsible for muscular movement
  • Muscular Dystrophy – progressive weakness and loss and muscle function leading to impaired swallowing
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis – otherwise called Lou Gehrig’s disease is a condition marked by consistent death of neurons that control voluntary movement; speech and swallowing muscles are impaired
  • Cancer – radiation and chemotherapy often cause scarring and rigidity in the throat that leads to swallowing difficulties
  • Poor eating habits – eating too fast, less water intake, eating or drinking while lying down and not chewing the food properly can cause the mastification process to be compromised resulting to aspiration

How to dislodge food stuck in the throat?

There are two ways to remove dislodged food in the throat: natural and medical method.
Natural treatment is often non-invasive and less costly while medical treatment is usually invasive and costly.

Natural treatment

  • Drink a cup of lukewarm water as hot water (not hot enough to burn) dissolves masses of food particles
  • Gargle with salt and warm water or a teaspoonful of hydrogen peroxide with honey as this makes the process easier
  • Eating something soft like banana, cereals or bread then swallow with apple cider vinegar as it helps loosen the obstruction
  • Try coughing; this constricts the throat and helps expel food particles
  • Swallow an uncooked egg, the yolk aids the foreign body object to slide down

Medical treatment

  • Heimlich Maneuver – also called “abdominal thrust” is a first aid procedure to rescue people experiencing airway obstruction caused by foreign objects
  • Tracheostomy – is surgically creating a hole through the neck in the tracheal area to relieve airway obstruction and facilitate ease of breathing
  • Esophageal Dilatation– a surgical instrument with light and camera, it is often flexible and is usually used to visualize the digestive tract and expand the opening of the esophagus; physicians often use the tube with graspers to pull out the obstruction
  • Glucagon therapy – a medication used to relax the muscles in the esophageal area; this aids the smooth flow of the foreign body causing obstruction
  • Medications ( Proton Pump Inhibitors) – are medications useful to treat GERD and prevent acid reflux


  • Modification of eating habits – aside from chewing slowly, small frequent feeding and increased in oral fluid intake is often recommended to facilitate smooth digestion.
  • Eliminate caffeine and alcohol from your diet as these increases the release of gastric juices necessary to create heartburn.
  • Practice appropriate swallowing techniques.
  • Eat a high fiber diet and increase fluid intake to lubricate the esophagus and allow a smooth swallowing process.
  • Early detection and early treatment of diseases e.g GERD.
  • Quit smoking as this lessens the production of saliva, a dry throat is a magnet for food particles getting stuck.

When to see a doctor?

Sometimes dysphagia can seem like an ordinary eating issue and less serious but when the episodes are accompanied by weight loss, vomiting right after eating, and consistent regurgitation intervals, that is already alarming. In addition, when aspiration occurs( food goes to the lungs) do not hesitate to walk in the emergency as this can cause pneumonia.

Ultimately, the best time to seek consult from a physician is when obstruction interferes the normal breathing process, this is an emergency situation as this can result to death. Make sure to remain calm and think critically. In addition, excessive drooling or cyanosis ( bluish transformation of the skin ) is another sign of an obstructive airway. However, this is critical as it also reflects less oxygen in the brain, the lesser the oxygen content the higher the risk of brain coma. It is important to understand that first aid treatment should be urgently given to the casualty. If no one else is around to assist you, keep calm and perform the Heimlich Maneuver yourself. However, it is best to note that prevention is always better than cure.

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